Our water pipes are leaking, our gas pipes often need replacing, our telephone cables need expanding and even our electricity wires may need fixing. Each time one of the utilities needs to do such work, they have to dig up the streets.
The government is aware of the frustration this causes. Its own highways legislation asked Councils to limit the time utilities have available to disrupt the streets, and requires them to penalise delayed works. It asked the bodies that often themselves do as much or more as the utilities to impede our progress to work, as Councils themselves have a fascination with rearranging the street furniture and with digging up and reshaping the roads.
Much of the problem could be solved over the longer term is we started to alter the way we arrange our utilities. Every time a builder puts in a new housing estate, a developer puts in a new business park, and every time major roadworks are carried out, it would be possible to alter the way we organise our utilities.
We could create concrete box tunnels under one of the pavements in urban areas, and by the side of the road in rural areas. These box tunnels should be large enough to take the water and sewage pipes, the power cables, telephone cables and the gas mains. No-one would dream of embedding all these features in the walls or concrete floors in new commercial buildings â€“ they are placed in the space between floor and ceiling, and in the basement, allowing easy access to mend or improve. These new box tunnels should allow entrance to workmen to fix or change, without needing to dig up the road, and usually without even having to disrupt the pavement.
There would be more cost at the time the facilities were put in, but huge savings in time and effort subsequently. It is madness that we sit and watch as our roads are regularly wrecked, often just after they have been resurfaced at public expense, because the main utilities run down the middle of the road and are buried in the soil and hardcore.
This governmentâ€™s policies have meant much reduced flows and capacity on many of our roads through traffic mismanagement schemes. They have created extra congestion and pollution by all red phases on traffic lights, by chicanes, lane removal and artificial narrowing. The very least they could do to help the flows and the busy commuters would be to start to cut the number of times the precious highway has to be coned off and dug up.